1796: Lesurques, wrongly, and Couriol, rightly, for robbing the Lyons Mail 1938: The terrified John Deering

Executed Today’s Second Annual Report: Once Bitten, Twice Die

October 31st, 2009 Headsman

Here at Executed Today, we know where the bodies are buried. As of today, we’ve buried two years’ worth in daily death-blogging since our auspiciously topical launch two Halloweens ago.

As you sow … so shall you reap.


The Triumph of Death (topically detail view; click for the full canvas of wholesale grim reaping), by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, c. 1562.

Where Are You?

The 15 leading domiciles of Executed Today visitors are:

United States (just over half)
United Kingdom (1/8th)
Canada (a bit over 5%)
Germany
Australia
France
Philippines
Netherlands
Italy
Poland
Spain
Ireland
Sweden
Belgium
India

At this point, we’re dropping into a long slope of closely clustered countries with tiny individual footprints.

It’s always interesting to notice the differing behavior of site visitors. The overall average for visitors was to spend 2:29 on the site and visit 2.1 pages, with 70% of visitors “bouncing” or leaving after seeing just one page. But that average conceals many variations.

Loved It

  • Visitors from Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates each had about 3.3 pageviews and over 5 minutes on the site per visit, though similar numbers were not recorded elsewhere in the Middle East. Kuwaitis, remarkably, were more than 50% likely to visit a second page on the site.

  • The Dutch spent over 3 minutes on the site per visit, bounced only 65% of the time, and viewed 2.85 pages apiece.
  • New Zealand had site-average bounce rates, but Kiwis who stuck, really stuck. They spent more than 4 minutes on the site on average.
  • Relative to the averages, Estonians stuck around 20% more often, viewed 20% more pages, and spent 50% more time on the site.

Hated It

  • Only 28 visitors were recorded from Mongolia, but every single one of them left the site without clicking another link.

  • I got nearly 1,000 visits from Vietnam, but they averaged barely 30 seconds on the site and only 1.3 pages per visitors. (The Vietnamese showed similar disinterest last year, too.)
  • Iranians bounced 87.9% of the time.
  • Although in the top 10 for traffic, the Philippines had less than 1.5 pageviews per visitor and a bounce rate approaching 80%.

How’d You Get Here?

Searches accounted for nearly 60% of all traffic to Executed Today (another 30% came from referral links, and just over 10% from direct lookups, e.g., a browser bookmark).

As was the case last year, “executed today” was the most popular search lookup, and “executedtoday.com” was also in the top 10. Let’s set those aside.

The #1 search term besides “executed today” was “colonel claus von stauffenberg” — courtesy of the movie Valkyrie. “claus schenk graf von stauffenberg” and “col. claus von stauffenberg” also both placed in the top 20 and “col stauffenberg” in the top 50, so clearly Tom Cruise wins the year’s search battle. (Interestingly, people who arrived on these searches tended to browse the site less, with only about 1.5 pageviews per visitor. Search visitors in general perform a bit less well than other visitors, but the difference was really pronounced with Valkyrie-generated visitors.)

Excluding Stauffenberg-related searches, the top 15 search terms generating traffic to Executed Today since last Halloween were:

samuel doe
lingchi
samuel doe execution video
albert pierrepoint
arsinoe
amon goth
broken on the wheel
ling chi
ricky lee green
hamida djandoubi
charles starkweather
sidney reilly
jenny wanda barkmann
michael x
botched executions

… I noticed last year that searches on individually named executed women drove more traffic than those on individually named men. That seemed to be somewhat less true this year, even leaving Col. Stauffenberg aside; Jenny Wanda Barkmann is the only woman in the top 15. However, if we extend the table to the top 20, we would add:

rosalie gicanda
edith thompson
john spenkelink
william chaloner
princess mishaal bint fahd

Other women such as Sue Logue, Lois Nadean Smith, Ruth Snyder, Karla Faye Tucker, Hannah Ocuish and Ethel Rosenberg are also among the top 50. It’s still probably the case that women’s executions attract interest and searches disproportionate to their frequency, just as they’ve attracted our eye for a couple of thematic collections (1, 2).


What’d You See When You Got Here?

As of the end of year two, the most popular posts in Executed Today’s history are …

1. January 24, 1989: Ted Bundy, psycho killer

No contest, really.

The runaway number one, more than 25% ahead of its closest competition for pageviews. For such an infamous killer of such recent vintage, I was doubtful about finding something new to contribute on the subject.

Fortunately, author Kevin M. Sullivan, whose new book The Bundy Murders: A Comprehensive History published earlier this year, took care of it by turning the post’s discussion thread into a conversational salon for far-flung folks interested in the killer’s career. As of this writing, the Bundy comment thread is pushing 1,200 entries and still consistently among the most popular posts on the site every single day.

2. July 21, 1944: Col. Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, for the plot to kill Hitler

Ah, the power of a multimillion-dollar Hollywood ad campaign. Thanks, Tom.

The Valkyrie traffic graph shows a spike in the winter of 2008-09 when the film released on the silver screen, and an aftershock bump in the spring when it went out on DVD.

Although I didn’t “earn” the big traffic by anything other than timeliness, this post also happens to be one of the better ones on the site.

3. September 9, 1990: Samuel K. Doe

A monument to human morbidity, the post about the deposed former President of Liberia is not particularly high-quality, was not blessed with any high-profile links, and has never been especially promoted.

However:

Samuel K. Doe’s pre-execution torture was filmed.

People go Googling for that film.

I’m on the first page of hits, with an embed of as much film as I’ve ever been able to locate.

Voila: traffic.

If anyone out there has the Doe video in its entirety, send it to me and this post will give Ted Bundy a run for his money in no time.

4. August 14, 1936: Rainey Bethea, America’s last public hanging

A stats accumulator type rather than a Hall of Famer, this post benefits from favorable search engine placement for a variety of oft-searched phrases about America’s last public execution, and has been up for 14+ months.

I liked unearthing the local newspaper’s angry response to big-city interlopers portraying them as a mob of bloodthirsty yokels … and I definitely enjoy going back to this bit of warm fuzz from the comments section:

I have enjoyed your work, and would like to thank you for your effort. I particularly like how you avoid the easy, sensationalist macabre approach for something more sombre and cerebral, supported by generous hyperlinks.

5. July 4, 1946: Eleven from the Stutthof concentration camp

This post features images of a few of the Third Reich’s cutest concentration camp guards strangling to death. As you might imagine, there’s a steady market of search hits for that sort of thing. (One of the most popular metadata pages on the site is the tag for Jenny Wanda Barkmann, the foxiest hanged Stutthof guard of them all.)

6. June 6, 1997: Henry Francis Hays, whose crime cost the Klan

Hays was the first white person executed for murdering a black person in Alabama in 84 years — specifically, for lynching young Michael Donald.

The shocking photo of Michael Donald’s body that my post contains has much exercised contributors to the Michael Donald Wikipedia entry, and for a time the article “compromised” on the subject of including it with page versions that linked my humble post from this banner phrase:

WARNING GRAPHIC PICTURE MICHAEL DONALD

Obviously, that generated plenty of clicks.

Alas, more sober-minded editors have not only toned down the article, but removed any link at all to Executed Today. Look for Henry Francis Hays to sink in the rankings in the year ahead if that situation isn’t rectified.

(Note: I don’t insinuate my links into Wikipedia and had nothing to do with this article in any version.)

7. December 11, 1962: Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin

This post dates all the way back to the blog’s second month of existence.

It’s an interview with the author of a book about these two unconnected criminals who became the last to hang in Canada, and it was for a short while early in Executed Today’s history the most popular post on the site.

It’s continued since that time to build up almost two years’ worth of unspectacular but steady daily traffic on search hits by people trying to find out … well, who the last people hanged in Canada were.

8. June 19, 1953: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, “the first victims of American fascism”

It’s interesting to me that few of my top posts are of the household-name execution victims — the Robespierres, the Anne Boleyns, the Tsar Nicholases — which I generally attribute to the competitive search market. There are a lot of pages about Joan of Arc on the Internet, and only so much real estate on search engine results.

Though I’m only on Google’s third page when searching a phrase like (julius and ethel rosenberg), this post is one of the top results when using variants that include the word “execution” (e.g., ethel rosenberg execution) — I presume because of the blog’s name.

Between the minority of people who search this way and the minority of people who wade all the way to the third page of Google hits, this post gets a small-but-just-big-enough slice of an enormous pie.

9. May 15, 1916: Jesse Washington lynched after conviction

The dramatic photographs of the charred body (and celebratory crowd) at one of America’s most infamous lynchings have generated steady traffic with a handful of one- or two-day spikes from minor newsquakes, like this passing reference in the New York Times that quintupled the post’s traffic for a single day.

10. November 29, 1941: Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya

The teenage partisan martyred by the Nazis isn’t exactly a household name worldwide, but she’s searched more often than you might think; these searches don’t skew disproportionately to the former Soviet Union, either.

Gratifyingly, hits to this page come overwhelmingly from searches on Zoya’s name, as opposed to pervy variations on the “women hanging” theme.

This post’s traffic was at a trickle level for its first year, but bumped up to a higher level around the end of 2008 without ever having a clear single spike, giving its traffic graph an odd stair-step look. I’ve never been able to explain this; my two unsatisfying working theories are:

  1. that Executed Today crossed some ranking threshold in the likes of Google pagerank that catapulted the post onto the first page of search results, meaning I started capturing a larger share of traffic that was always there;

  2. that exiled Burmese activist Zoya Phan, who was named for Kosmodemyanskaya, crossed a threshold of public prominence sufficient to increase the frequency with which the name was searched.

… And Others

The remainder of the top 25:

11. September 10, 1977: Hamida Djandoubi – The last man guillotined, and as noted above, one of the top search hits for the site.
12. February 17, 2004: Cameron Todd Willingham – Long-neglected but suddenly popular guest post about a possible wrongful execution that’s been front-page news for the past two months.
13. August 8, 1944: Eight July 20 plotters – A second beneficiary of Valkyrie search traffic.
14. July 8, 1999: Allen Lee “Tiny” Davis – Gruesome bloody photos of the Florida electric chair’s last client.
15. April 10, 1905: Fou Tchou LiLingchi or “slow slicing” death “by a thousand cuts” that inspired Georges Bataille.
16. January 9, 1923: Edith Thompson and Frederick Bywaters – A deadly love triangle turned enduring cause celebre.
17. August 12, 1833: Captain Henry Nicholas Nicholls – The #1 post this time last year, thanks to a link from Andrew Sullivan, but scant ongoing traffic promises further sinkage in the year ahead.
18. December 13, 1945: The Belsen war criminals – Featuring Irma Grese, the “Beast of Belsen”.
19. June 25, 1959: Charles Starkweather – The spree killer who embodied the underbelly of the American dream to the likes of Stephen King and Bruce Springsteen.
20. October 9, 1967: Ernesto “Che” Guevara – One of the posts most frequently sought out by visitors viewing a second or third page. Play the mp3, and be sure to join the comment thread’s ideological pissing match!
21. November 28, 1950: James Corbitt – This post is really about prolific British hangman Albert Pierrepoint, on the occasion of his hanging a man he actually knew.
22. December 26, 1862: 38 Sioux – The largest mass execution in U.S. history.
23. January 15, 1943: Sue Logue, Geoge Logue and Clarence Bagwell – Randy young Strom Thurmond made Sue “the only person seduced on the way to the electric chair.”
24. April 7, 2007: Du’a Khalil Aswad – Features a horrificially graphic video of a Yazidi honor killing victim being stoned to death.
25. Uncertain date in 41 B.C.E.: Arsinoe IV – Cleopatra’s sister, who got search traffic earlier this year when scientists claimed to have reconstructed her appearance.

Noticing a pattern? Of the top 25 posts, 22 concern executions that occurred in the 20th or 21st century … and two of the exceptions (#17 and #25) are on the chart solely because of freak, one-time external events (an A-list blog link and an unpredictable news cycle, respectively). In fact, if you throw out those two anomalies and keep going down the list, 29 of the top 30 posts on Executed Today are about 20th or 21st-century affairs, and 26 of those are executions that took place within the past 75 years. (Slightly over half the total posts on this site overall concern pre-20th century executions.)

The list of most popular posts for only Executed Today’s second year (as opposed to all time) is very nearly the same: Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin no longer make the top 10, but Cameron Todd Willingham does, a bit of minor shuffling occurs in a few other places … the similarity is no surprise, since nearly 900,000 of the site’s 1.1 million pageviews occurred during its second year.

Noted in passing: the highest-ranking meta-content on the site by a country mile is Seven Generic Halloween Costumes You Can Spice Up With an Execution Story, which dates to last year but has experienced a massive traffic surge this October for obvious reasons. It’s actually pushed its way into the top 20 posts. A heavy preponderance of hits come from searches, especially image searches, for costumes (“pirate costume” being the most frequent); as a result, this post about more generalized Halloween fare is much more popular than its sister offering Nine Executed People Who Make Great Halloween Costumes.

Most Popular Posts by Month

October 2009: Masha Bruskina, Kiril Trus, and Volodia Shcherbatsevich, though only five days old, it outdraws the month’s preceding content on the discomfiting appeal of a comely girl hanged
September 2009: Dr. Mohammad Najibullah, deposed Afghan president notable for the gory photos of his body hanging from a traffic pylon
August 2009: Bronislav Kaminski, Waffen SS collaborator
July 2009: Princess Misha’al bint Fahd al Saud, a disobedient Saudi princess
June 2009: The village of Lidice, for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich
May 2009: Karl Hermann Frank, who helped engineer the aforementioned Lidice operation
April 2009: Rwandan Queen Dowager Rosalie Gicanda, a prominent genocide victim whose killer was recently arrested
March 2009: William Chaloner, a counterfeiter captured by Isaac Newton which was guest-blogged by the author of a recent book about the case
February 2009: Nguyen Van Lem, the Viet Cong summarily executed in a famous Vietnam War photo and newsreel
January 2009: Ted Bundy, psycho killer
December 2008: The Belsen war criminals
November 2008: James Corbitt, the hangman’s mate
October 2008: Ernesto “Che” Guevara, iconic revolutionary
September 2008: Samuel K. Doe, deposed Liberian president
August 2008: Rainey Bethea, America’s last public hanging
July 2008: Col. Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, tried to assassinate Hitler
June 2008: Henry Francis Hays, for a racial murder
May 2008: Jesse Washington lynched
April 2008: Fou Tchou-Li, by a thousand cuts
March 2008: Robert-Francois Damiens, disciplined and punished
February 2008: Cameron Todd Willingham, wrongful arson execution?
January 2008: Edith Thompson and Frederick Bywaters, adulterous lovers
December 2007: Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin, the last hanged in Canada
November 2007: Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya, Russian partisan
October 2007: Peter Stubbe, werewolf?


Guest Content

Once again, the site relied on the kindness of strangers to make it through another year. Thanks to the following guest posters for pulling through with a month’s worth of content (the second straight year I’ve enjoyed that kind of support) in these fantastic guest posts:

Alexandre Dumas, pere

Anthony Vaver

Caitlin GD Hopkins

dogboy

Gilbert King

James Durney

Jeff Matthews

Jonathan Shipley

Kristin Houlé

Lara Eakins

Laura James

Louise Yeoman

Mark Davis

Richard Clark

Rob

Royelen

Sarah Owocki

Thomas Levenson

Expert interviews also shed some light on these subjects:


Miscellaneous Indicators

Feed subscriptions. This highly volatile and undependable figure has been solidly in the high 400s for a while now, sometimes giving a prairie dog peek up above 500. Just short of half those subscribers are in the U.S.; South Africa (!) is the runaway #2, with Canada third. After those three, it’s a plateau of high-income countries who are all essentially tied. Russia and the United Arab Emirates are in that group among the top feed subscribers despite not being among the high-traffic web browsing sources; conversely, Italy and the Netherlands send plenty of web visitors but have few feed subscribers.

Twitter. I can’t say this is my favorite medium, but yes … Executed Today tweets and twats. 180-some followers get regular blurbs about ongoing death penalty news, much of it from the far-flung network of informants and search feeds that keep the site stocked with future content.

Random acts of violence. I have to credit sometime guest blogger and translator Sonechka for the idea to add one of the most popular features on the site:


I started routing that through bit.ly since local stats were having trouble with it — probably hurting my bounce rate and average page counts in the process, but gaining the url shortening service’s click stats. And bit.ly says the Random Execution button has been pushed 20,000 times in the past 22 weeks.

Editor’s Picks. In the daily blog business, some posts hit and some don’t, and one really never knows what to expect from any given day. Cameron Todd Willingham didn’t get any particular buzz, traffic, or link love when it went up, but it became the site’s starring content 18 months later when The New Yorker caught on to the story.

Having enumerated all the traffic-getters and guest posts above, I thought I’d spare a thought for a few of the in-house posts that aren’t on those lists and might have slipped through the cracks … but that were fun to research, or to write, or (hopefully) to read. While the most-trafficked posts tend to skew towards executions within someone’s living memory, you’ll notice that the author has had the most fun with some older fare.

Presented in no particular order:

… and, of course, our Year 2 wrap couldn’t be complete without:

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Administrative Messages

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4 thoughts on “Executed Today’s Second Annual Report: Once Bitten, Twice Die”

  1. bonnie wehmanen says:

    I am having trouble reading the site. The text appears in a window underneath a blank screen which covers much of the text. The choice is between making the text so small I can’t read it, or showing only half a line at a time.
    I was looking up a particular execution after watching a movie, which I originally thought was pure fiction, and discovered that it was romanticized history.

  2. club penguin says:

    to the comment poster above, you are absolutely right

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